Category Archives: Labour

My recent troubles with the DWP when I tried to claim Jobseekers Allowance…

I have not written a blog post in a while due to the time pressures of work, a move across the country and my general disillusionment with the hardship of being a self-published author and how difficult it is to feel like you are making any progress. That is not to say that I have given up, merely that I needed a break and that I would eventually come back feeling refreshed. I shall soon finish the sequel to ‘Only an atheist’, ‘Jesus Returns’, and self-publish it along with, hopefully, a few podcasts appearances. I am also making good progress with a book of short, science-fiction stories (that I am thoroughly enjoying writing!) and shall endeavour to get these published in magazines and via the traditional publishing route. Until I give up and self-publish, most likely!

1

Anyway, that is not the topic of this blog post, which is how Goddamn awful and unfit for purpose the DWP is. I’m sure a great many people would agree with that perspective, having had dealings with them, but I am currently banging my head against the wall that is our social security net and getting nowhere fast. Many years ago I was very unwell for a long time and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) helped me through this period. That was until I was sent to Atos for a physical assessment and, sure enough, deemed fit for work (which I definitely was not). I was then shunted onto Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) until I was able to get myself well enough to return to my studies, at least part-time, before finishing up my PhD in Neuroscience, as had always been my intention.

2

Above, Iain Duncan Smith, the previous gremlin in charge of destroying our social security net.

Now we move forward to present day. My wife and I recently moved across the country due to her job relocating and we had little choice but to move too. As a result I had to leave my job and I am now actively looking for work, with some success, in another field. I hope and expect to be reemployed soon. In the meantime I began a claim of Jobseekers Allowance to get me through the intervening period. My stamps have been paid for the past few years and, as a result I am entitled to JSA, or at least I thought I was. I put in my claim and waited for the payments which never came. Instead the awful brown letters from the DWP (that somehow seemed to be filled with dread) did appear to tell me that I would be getting nothing. Not a penny.

 

A conversation with someone on the helpline informed me that the reason I was not getting JSA was that the years that my current claim were assessed on were earlier than I thought and, as I had been living in Canada during one of those years, I had not paid enough stamps. Fair enough. However, the assessment years then changed when we reached the first Sunday of January 2018 and I am now eligible having paid my stamps for the appropriate years. Except the DWP will not reassess your claim even if you ask them to. They will not explain why that is the case. The only option is to close your claim and then restart it to force them to reassess the claim. All done and dusted, right? It should all be sorted now, yes? No.

3

Above, Esther McVey, the current minister in charge of the DWP.

 

As I made a first claim back in November, which I did not know would not allow me JSA, and I have now reclaimed I am being told the two claims are ‘linked’, DWP magic words for ‘we simply don’t want to pay you what you have earned’. Now, I have two choices. Either close my current claim and wait TWELVE weeks (and a day!) to restart my claim, forfeiting the NI contributions that I would get during this time and possibly jeopardise my state pension (I was a student for many years and lived in Canada for five more so I am genuinely worried I won’t have 35 years NI paid by the time I reach retirement) or I can keep getting my NI paid but NEVER get any JSA. That is despite my stamps now being paid for the relevant years.

 

There is clearly no justification for the position I find myself in, the DWP merely tells me this is the way things are and there is little point trying to fix it as JSA will be phased out soon and replaced with the joy that is Universal Credit. And we all know how well that is going. They have no interest in helping me and don’t care that they are not paying me what I have earned. The people I have spoken to on the phone have been very nice and helpful, explaining why I have fallen over every obstacle placed in my path that I could not see until I had fallen over them, and I bear them no ill will. But the godawful system that has been twisted by this Tory government (and by the Blair government too, they are not blameless in this situation) and now needs to be reconstructed so that it is fit for purpose when it so clearly is not at the moment.

 

I am lucky, however. I do not need the miserly amount of money that would come from the JSA to survive. Between my wife’s salary and our savings we will get by and I should be returning to work in a relatively decent job soon. I hope. I also would have liked to swear profusely during the conversations with the DWP and in this blog post but I did not do that. That is less effective than simply telling the story of how they have treated me and the way in which the system acts to deny the payment of money earned. So now I am able to get nothing despite having contributed for years. But then that is the point, isn’t it. This Tory government does not want us to access the social security network that is supposed to be there to protect us. Frances Ryan wrote about this recently in the Guardian (https://tinyurl.com/ycjc7pj9) and she makes the point very eloquently.

 

I am also acutely aware that I am far from the worst affected. I recently watched I, Daniel Blake with my wife (and I am in no way trying to compare my story with this one) but I read the news and I know that many out there have things much worse than I. It is apparent, and has been for some time, that we need this Tory government out and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour to gain power (as a Labour party member, of course I would say that, but I do feel it is true). We need a shift away from the harmful neo-liberal policies of the last few decades and a return to social democracy where the system is set up to support those who need it and who contribute to it. Not just for those who have paid into the system, like myself, but for those who need the help, for those who are homeless through no fault of their own (blame the insane London property market) and for those struggling to feed and house themselves and their kids despite working a full-time job.

 

So, bring on the next election, say I. Bring on the end of this Tory government and bring on Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. Because, whatever the Tory press tell us, it’s can’t be worse than this bunch of muppets!

 

Update: It’s always nice when things work as they are supposed to and, much to my surprise, things have now worked out. Following the DWP denying my legitimate claim, and my letter to the my local MP, they have now reassessed and decided to pay the JSA that I am owed. I suspect that, without the intervention of my local (Tory) MP, David Rutley, this would not have happened and I am grateful for his help. Of course, that won’t stop me voting Labour in the next election but I am glad that they system has worked as intended and that he was willing to help me. Cheers!

 

‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers including Amazon UK here: http://tinyurl.com/pgjd68z. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Finally, follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

matthewjames-series-f

Advertisements

My review of Martin William’s ‘Parliament Ltd’…

I have a strong interest in politics and I enjoy reading well researched and informative books so Martin Williams ‘Parliament Ltd: A Journey to the Dark Heart of British Politics’ sits very well alongside books that I have previously enjoyed including George Monbiots ‘Captive State’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/zevxd7g) and Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/grg36v8) as well as James Rickard’s ‘The Death of Money’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/y9zfj6tf) and I would recommend that you hunt out and read both. In ‘Parliament Ltd’, Williams sets out to investigate the financial affairs of MPs, who they work for (besides us) and how much they are paid to do so. It examines the arguments both for and against MPs having second jobs and also looks into the influence that these might have on the way that MPs vote. It is an indictment of our political system that Martin had to invest time and money to research this information which should be freely available for public consumption and this only adds to the feeling that politicians have something to hide.

PL

‘Parliament Ltd’ makes it clear that, even if Parliament cannot be expressly accused of corruption (despite the best efforts of the author to find some!), the way in which MPs are allowed to work second jobs fosters the perception that they might be less than honest especially when allowed to speak on matters that directly affect those who employ them. It also states that a great many MPs, whom the author spoke to, have an entitled attitude that prevents change from occurring in a system so desperately in need of this change. MPs even seem to be resentful of what limited has improved since the expenses scandal (you’d think they’d want to stop that happening again!) and are resistant to anything that might prevent them from being seen in this light. They can claim for meals they might need following a vote in an evening, even if their residence is around the corner, clearly annoyed the writer and costing the public money that really needn’t be spent and this is only one of the ways in which we subsidise their living (Parliamentary canteens and bars are insane for this!).

 

Parliament Ltd is a thoroughly enjoyable read, a book that covers a dense subject in an accessible and enjoyable way with a light (though sometimes also angry) tone that facilitates a rapid read. It is well researched and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in politics and how our political system got to the point that it currently stands at with trust in the system and MPs continuing at a low ebb. It also makes the case that change is still desperately needed but without pressure from within the system to push thing this is unlikely to happen. I suspect that another crisis such as the expenses scandal or the collapse of our two major political parties would need to occur for anything to actually come of this and I guess we shall see.

 

 

‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers including Amazon UK here: http://tinyurl.com/pgjd68z. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Finally, follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

matthewjames-series-f

Reaching ‘peak stuff’ and how it has changed my view and what I want…

So, the feeling has been building for a while but I think my wife and I have finally reached ‘peak stuff’, that is the notion that we now have enough material possessions in our lives and that we no longer wish to keep gathering more. This makes us very bad citizens in the current age when you are encouraged to buy more and to consume more and to not think about the environmental cost of all this and instead to think about the benefits to the economy. It also causes issues at Christmas with all the gift giving and receiving.

i-have-too-much-stuff

But the reality is that we really do have enough stuff. We live in a small apartment and, unless something dramatic changes (which it actually might be, if some newspaper reports are right), we won’t be buying a house anytime soon. Therefore we can only buy and keep the stuff that we can fit into said apartment. We have moved several times in the past decade (another increasing trend among my generation and the next), including to and from Canada and this required us to shed the vast majority of our stuff (and to buy new, which was quite fun), the rest was stored to await our return. But even those things, those possessions that we decided were worth keeping, are now looking like unnecessary junk in our lives and we are considering losing more and more of what remains.

 

In addition to this, I have sold off the majority of collectibles that I owned from many years spent building a substantial Transformers and Star Wars Black figures collection. Losing that feeling of needing to own stuff means that these figures would inevitably be heading out the door, and selling them actually paid for our car. I have also stopped buying graphic novels, which has been a passion of mine for a long time (though I still buy beautiful hardcovers of series I love, my last remaining weakness). I had gradually been moving to digital for my book and graphic novel needs anyway so replacing them with electronic versions when they have been available for a good price is a good move. Most of my physical books are borrowed from the library, breaking the link between owning and reading, and subscriptions to online streaming services have ended the need to buy physical copies of movies. All that we have left are mostly mementos of our lives and our travels and I am realising more and more that we need little else.

 

So then the question changes from what do I need to buy and own to what else do I want? I want an electric car (something else that seems right on the cusp of becoming mainstream) for I do not want to keep contributing to our humongous carbon dioxide output. I want less plastic to pass through my hands simply because I have a need to eat (why does a cucumber now come wrapped in this?). I want to eat well (our Riverford Farms weekly veg box helps with that http://tinyurl.com/j58aep6). I want the world to stop consuming fossil fuels when alternatives are finally reaching the mainstream (higher plastic use is clearly a by-product of oil consumption when we have significant quantities of oil derivatives to use) and I want renewable energy to become the norm, as I was told as a kid that it would be. My wife and I recently switched our energy supplier to Green Star (website: https://www.mygreenstarenergy.com/) who source their energy from renewables and that felt like a step in the right direction and a very good thing indeed. I also want everything that I discard to be recycled, though the rates of doing so are still dismal.

 

Finally, I want a political system in my country that works, one that meets the needs of the people and not of the elites and the Corporations who fund them. I want a truly representative Parliament, one that listens to us when they express ourselves and our concerns and then acts to help. I want enough houses to be built in the UK so that those who choose to buy are able to do so. I want a properly regulated financial system that doesn’t always seem like it’s about to bring about financial apocalypse (http://tinyurl.com/zgjg8ll). I want a powerful and well funded environmental agency that will police the actions of those who seek to destroy it, which we currently do not have (http://tinyurl.com/hszoort). And I want a forward looking political system that actually addresses the changes that are coming in the near future, like driver-less cars and ever more insecure working conditions.

 

It sounds like I want a lot, huh, but I really don’t think that I do, and I also think that many of you out there would agree with this point of view. Let me know if you do, eh. Cheers!

 

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

matthewjames-series-f

My review of Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’…

Recently I’ve read and reviewed a short list of non-fiction, mostly politics books from Laurie Penny’s ‘Unspeakable Things’ (http://tinyurl.com/jl5trzc) to Owen Jones’ ‘The Establishment’ (http://tinyurl.com/jo8sekz) and George Monbiot’s ‘Captive State’ (http://tinyurl.com/zevxd7g) as well as a few others. This week I’m reviewing Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’, a book that is a little different than my other recent reads in that it not only explains how Capitalism got to the point where the author thinks that it will soon collapse, but he also details what might be to come and it is a fascinating read. Onwards to my review!

postcapitalism-cov_3392423f

In clear and accessible language, Mason talks us through the history of Capitalism and how this economic model, especially the current form of Neo-Liberalism, has driven our world economy to the brink of its own destruction. He explains that this system must inevitably end and that something else take its place. Mason challenges the assumption that Capitalism will always be our economic model, starting from the point that it has not always been so, and moving onward to the changes that are to come. The Postcapitalism model, as seen by Mason, is driven by the rise of information technology, the fall of Labour as the driving force behind value in the production of goods and the desire of information to be free. The internet and the ever increasing connectivity of the next generation is a key part of this coming change and something that, now in place, will be extremely hard to undo. Impossible, I would say.

As someone who has an interest in politics and in the future, I found this a fascinating read and I feel that I can already see much of what Mason addresses becoming reality. Reading this book during the upcoming EU referendum also makes for a fascinating experience. Mason makes the claim that the end of Capitalism and Neo-Liberalism will likely be caused by an outside shock of exactly the sort that the UK leaving the EU might cause. Although that scenario currently seems unlikely, should the UK remain in the EU there is still the possibility that other countries, like Greece , Italy, Spain, may decide that they would prefer not to accept the conditions of remaining and their leaving may be the shock that hastens the end of our current economic model and the move forwards to postcapitalism.

One of the aspects of this coming revolution that fascinates me is that this ongoing change is being driven not by my generation but by the next. I already have an interest in how those younger than me engage with and consume media and, having talked with my younger sister and her friends, it seems that there is a clear difference. I am still stuck buying and owning DVDS, and watching television, though the means by which I access these shows is via the internet. But my sister and her friends don’t own or watch their TV except to have games consoles and internet connections attached to them and all media is consumed through this medium and via streaming services like Netflix. As a result the model for this particular part of their lives has shifted and I only see this change becoming more dramatic. It also changes how her generation access their news, bypassing conventional sources, and pushing them towards different agencies and I find this to be a very interesting thing indeed!

Postcapitalism is a superb book that is accessible and well written and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I can’t recommend it highly enough and if you have any interest in the future, in the end of Capitalism and Neo-liberalism, and in what might replace it in the years to come, then you should read it. I’m glad that I did! Up next time I hope to review either be ‘The Hollowing of Democracy’ or Johann Hari’s ‘Chasing the Scream’. I just have to find the time to actually read them both! Cheers!

 

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, is available now from all electronic retailers. Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

OnlyanAtheistFinal

My ‘rambling’ review of ‘Blunders of our Government’…

So, recently I’ve been on a spree of reading and reviewing non-fiction books, often on politics (you can find reviews of ‘Unspeakable Things’, ‘The Establishment’, ‘Captive State’ and ‘Rise of the Political Class’ elsewhere on this blog) and continuing in that vein, this week I am reviewing ‘The Blunders of our Government’ by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe. This book is a quite astonishing roundup and exploration of the biggest mistakes that British governments of the past few decades have made including fuck-ups under Thatcher’s, Major’s, Blair’s, Brown’s and even during Cameron’s time, though this book would benefit from an updated version and Cameron’s government is given very little space. This book is written from a non-partisan perspective and, while assigning blame to individuals and the system itself, it steers clear (wisely) of blaming more either the left or right and I think this is a very smart move. Onwards to the review!

Blunders

The book covers many blunders, too many to talk about here, but it starts with probably the biggest screw-up of any UK government: the Poll tax scandal. Clearly this is the big one, the blunder that ended Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister and turned, not only her party against her, but most of the country. The authors then proceed to talk about mis-sold pensions that cost many of our citizens considerable sums of money, our exit from the ERM in the 90’s and ‘Black Wednesday’, the mess that was the Millennium Dome, the tax credit debacle that was instigated by Brown and still continues to this day, the billions spent on non-functional IT systems for the NHS, and many, many more, the combined cost of which is too much to even contemplate. Actually, there are a stunning number of other such mistakes including the London Underground Private-Public Partnership blunder that really should be better understood by the general public yet somehow seem to have remained poorly understood by the public-at-large.

In each and every case, the architects of the mistakes are identified and the blunder discussed at length and it is fascinating to read of the germination and eventual implementation of things that quite clearly were not going to succeed. One of the really interesting aspects of this book is how it explains that our system of government seems to encourage, or at least not discourage, blunders by not having enough checks and balances that would put across an opposing viewpoint. Or would, at the very least, challenge policies that are so clearly set up to fail. The Poll tax works as an example of this, with few Ministers willing to argue against something that so clearly not going to work. Yet none of the parties seem keen to change the system and avoid these catastrophic mistakes. Yet again, short-term self-interest maintains the ridiculously expensive status-quo! And every incredibly expensive mistake, and there are a great many of them, falls to the people to pay for.

One of the truly staggering aspects of all of these blunders, is the size and scale of the screw-ups and the astonishing amount of money that was lost in each and every case. The combined total of only the mistakes listed is an incredible amount of money and there’s little doubt that further blunders, like Osborne’s austerity agenda and Iain Duncan Smith’s failed Universal Credit scheme, will have added to this amount. I don’t even want to contemplate the grand total as to do so would be truly depressing!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s entertaining, while also being informative and shocking and it clearly points to changes that could be made to improve the UK system of government. But I don’t expect anything that to happen, and neither, I think, do the authors of this work. Almost everyone responsible for these mistakes was not punished in any meaningful way. Of course Thatcher took the fall for the Poll tax, but most of the architects of these screw-ups departed before their policies were implemented and many were even promoted! How bloody ridiculous yet until this changes, expect more blunders and more money to be wasted.

If you like non-fiction books and you have any interest in politics (and don’t mind a depressing read!), I would say it is worth your time to hunt out this tome and read it. Add it to the list of excellent non-fiction, politics books that I’ve recently read and reviewed and enjoyed. Cheers!

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help Godsave the world’, is available now from all electronic retailers. Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

OnlyanAtheistFinal